Mercury, hydroquinone and clobetasol propionate in skin lightening products in West Africa and Canada

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Skin lightening products are types of cosmetics (creams, gels, lotions and soaps) applied voluntarily on skin. Several of these products contain a variety of active ingredients that are highly toxic. Among those toxic agents, the present study focuses on mercury, hydroquinone, and clobetasol propionate. Out of the 93 lightening soaps and 98 creams purchased in large city markets in sub-Saharan West Africa and in small ethnic shops in Canada, 68–84% of all creams and 7.5–65% of all soaps exceeded regulatory guidelines for at least one active ingredient when considering different regulations. Mercury was found in high concentrations mainly in soaps, while hydroquinone and clobetasol propionate concentrations exceeded US FDA standards in some creams for all countries included in our study. Concentrations of the three compounds declared on labels of soaps and creams usually did not correspond to concentrations actually measured, particularly for mercury and hydroquinone. Overall, our results indicate that most studied skin-lightening products are potentially toxic and that product labels are frequently inaccurate with respect to the presence of toxic agents.

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